Kristen Rask is the proprietress of Schmancy, a gallery and store that sells quirky toys, collectibles and original art work. Her handmade button rings and owl pins can be found in shops all over Seattle. Schmancy’s gallery holds lots of art shows at Schmancy, and her annual Plush You! show of handmade plush toys from all over the world grows each year. In 2008 there will be two Plush You! shows, the second will be held at the Double Punch gallery in San Francisco. Kristen’s book, Plush You! was released in October of 2007. Kristen is pretty rad.
You are a one woman show running Schmancy, a small shop selling collectible vinyl figures. How did you get into this business?
Well my toy collecting started with Kinder Egg toys. I have a lot of them throughout my apartment. I then started buying some online. I was selling button rings to stores throughout Seattle and stopped into Fancy. I sold some to her and as a result of coming in fairly often to restock, Sally and I became friends. One day I was having a bad day and decided to go see if Sally wanted to go home and I would work for her. I figured working for yourself was awesome but was probably hard when you didn’t have much money to hire help. Anyways I went in and the space next door just opened. She talked me into opening a toy store in a few hours and three days later I had the lease. I don’t think Sally knew that I actually collected these things already. I thought there was no place like this in Seattle and why not? Needless to say, I am not the best person to ask for business advice. No business plan was involved in opening up Schmancy :)
Your store is part of a self declared Trilogy of Awesome along with two other shops in the same block here in Seattle – Fancy (jewelry and accessories) and Pants (undies) which share the same space. How did the Trilogy come to be? What sorts of things do the shops collaborate on and do you find that it works to the advantage of everybody?
Well the “Trilogy of Awesome” was a term started by Darci, the woman behind kittenpants.com. Sally was opening up Pants and Darci called us all the Trilogy of Awesome. It just stuck and has been around since. We mainly collaborate on advertising which makes it cheaper for us and we all have art shows. That’s about it. It works for us because you can have the support of people who know the satisfaction and hardships of owning your own shop but we also are not financially tied to each other which can bring bad blood. Or at least that’s what I have heard. I took some business classes in my many college years and my business law professor said if you don’t get anything else out of this class, do not own a business with anyone else, not even your mother. I guess that did stick.
You started holding the Plush You! show a few years back showcasing some of the plush objects crafters were making, and that has also turned into the Plush You! book (congratulations!) out this month. This year the Plush You show has grown and is being displayed across all three shops (Schmancy, Fancy + Pants, and Nancy). Are there any similar collaborations being planned across all three shops in the future?
Plush You is the only show we all do together each year. I think we have a different aesthetic when it comes to art that complements each of our stores. Plush You! got so big and I hated to reject people so I asked them if they would like to take part in this show. But that’s it.
Do you see a trend in the world of plush objects? Anybody who deserves more attention?
There are so many people that I think deserve more attention but the list would be insanely long. I think plush is going strong and overall getting more attention for it’s creativity, individuality and as an art form. Plush is just so amazing because on the one hand we all still look at it as something kids should be allowed to play with and then at the same time there are pieces that you wouldn’t even let a kid get near. I think it’s so great that it is getting more attention in all different elements of the art and toy world. As far as individuals that should be getting more attention…most of the Plush You! participants.
Do you have any advice for somebody considering opening their own shop? Anything you wish you knew going into it?
Get a book keeper right away! I wish I had. I messed up a lot at the beginning. Be prepared to be broke for a substantial amount of time. That was the worst part to get used to. Be passionate about what you are doing because there are waves where you ask yourself why you are doing this and if you don’t have a good answer to that question then you might just give up. Be persistent, think of the next plan, get your name out there anyway you can, continue to think of new ways to grow and most of all be proud of yourself, this is not easy, it’s really personal since it’s ultimately all on you and it is something you think about all the time.
How do you find new things for Plush You?
Luckily at this point I don’t really need to look, people find me. With all the blogs, participants, etc. people start emailing me about selling their plush from all over the world. It’s nice to not have to look so much anymore.
Are there business or craft sites you consider a good resource?
What is next for Schmancy? For Plush You? What is your ultimate goal?
Schmancy: Make more money! Diversify a little in my products. Get more people through the door. Be more active in all of these things.
Plush You: Take it on the road.
Ultimate Goal: Become a better business woman. Network more. Work harder and make more stuff for my shop.
Please tell us a favorite story or anecdote.
I guess my favorite story continues. I am always surprised at how many times people say yes when you ask. I have the book coming out which is something I never really dreamed would be in my cards. I ask artists as a “long shot” to do shows at Schmancy and they say yes! I get emails from strangers offering to help me, etc. I just haven’t gotten used to that. It still surprises me and amazes me. People are more awesome than not. I guess that is one of the greatest lessons in all of my years at Schmancy.